Essential Golf: A passion for the Game

Breaking Down the Science of Golf Balls: What’s Inside?

Breaking Down the Science of Golf Balls: What's Inside?

It’s a mystery to most people how a golf ball can be so small and fly so high and far out on the course. Over the years, ball manufacturing technology has evolved, and now different models are tailored for specific performance characteristics, weather patterns, course layouts, and so on. The rules of golf require a golf ball to have a diameter of at least 1.680 inches (42.7mm) and weigh no more than 1.620 oz (45.9g), performing within specified symmetry, distance, and velocity limits. The recently approved universal golf ball rollback will see testing conditions change to an 11-degree launch angle, 125 mph swing speed, and 2200 rpm spin rate from a 10-degree launch angle, 120 mph swing speed, and 2520 rpm spin rate.

History of Golf Balls Timeline

From the 14th through the 17th centuries, golf balls were reportedly carved out of hardwoods such as box and beech and shaped into round spheres. These balls were simple and easy to create but susceptible to moisture and easily broken. The wooden golf balls also had short travel distances and inconsistent air performance. Next came the feathery around 1618, which consisted of a hand-sewn leather pouch made from cow or horse skin and then stuffed with boiled chicken or goose feathers. As the ball dried, the feathers expanded, and the leather shrunk, resulting in a round, tightly wound ball. Although the feathery had better flight abilities, it was tedious and quite expensive to create.

Around 1848, Robert Adams Patterson invented the gutta-percha ball from the rubber-like dried sap of the Malaysian Sapodilla tree. The sap was first heated and poured into round molds to create spherical shapes. The simple manufacturing process incurred lower costs and allowed for larger production. Soon after, ball makers realized that creating indentations on the ball resulted in better aerodynamic performance. In 1898, Coburn Haskell, alongside his friend Bertram Work, discovered the wound golf ball from rubber thread. They then covered the creation, paving the way for the modern golf balls. Dimpling the ball became prevalent in the early 1900s, resulting in more control of the ball’s flight, trajectory, and spin.

Modern Golf Balls

The typical modern golf ball boasts a sophisticated design thanks to advanced materials and manufacturing techniques. Customizable materials such as urethane and surlyn (an ionomer) have enabled golfers to choose golf balls based on specific characteristics like control, feel, spin, and distance. The current market mostly features 2-piece, 3-piece, and 4-piece golf balls, although there are also 5-piece balls, such as the TaylorMade Penta launched in 2010. Modern golf ball construction combines thermodynamic polymer manufacturing, aerodynamic research, and computer simulations, resulting in high-performance balls.